In the early hours of the morning in the Amazonian city of Belem, Brazil a dockside warehouse is shaking to the sound of tecnobrega.
In this humid atmosphere, the beer is flowing and thousands of young people are dancing and enjoying what has become a music phenomenon among some of the poorest districts of the city. Tecnobrega is a mix of electronic beats of music from the 1980s and catchy “brega” which essentially means cheesy or tacky sounds – a combination that is very easy to dance to.
Sometimes it is based on old songs that were hits, but up to 80% involves new compositions. It might not appeal to everyone – but here in Belem, near the mouth of the Amazon river – the formula has proved a stunning success. “Tecnobrega is a regional music, the music that people here in [the state of] Para most enjoy,” says DJ Edilson. “The secrets are the beats which drive people crazy.” But it is not just the music that is different. It is the way it is produced and reaches the public that makes tecnobrega stand out, some of which is not unique to Brazil.
Tecnobrega music is often produced in people’s homes
“What is going on is that people, sometimes in very poor areas, are appropriating electronic instruments like computers and synthesizers to create their own music,” says Ronaldo Lemos, a professor at the respected Getulio Vargas Foundation.
“So this is a phenomenon that is going on not only in the tecnobrega scene but with many scenes around the world like Kuduro in Angola, Kwaito in South Africa, Bubblin’ in Suriname.”
Tecnobrega also offers a different kind of business model that offers a significant challenge to the traditional music scene.
The music starts in dozens of little makeshift studios – often just a converted bedroom where, with the help of one computer and a software program, tecnobrega performers are producing the music they hope will make their names. Gaby Amarantos is a singer who started this way and who has now boosted her profile to include appearing on national television. “We have found a new way to work,” she says. “It is a new format and a new market model because we produce the music ourselves and the cost to make one song is very cheap. “For example, the guys who work with me charge between £30-45 to make one song.”
Spreading the word
From the improvised studio, the next stop is a typical street market in Belem where among the stalls for clothes and food the street traders are hard at work selling tecnobrega CDs. It is the street traders who have made the copies and it is they who will make the money – selling CDs at a fraction of the normal price. “Everything depends on the CD quality,” says street trader Bacurau. “If the public likes it and it is a CD with good music – everyone comes to buy.”
Tecnobrega CDs are used to advertise rather than to make money
“What happens is that the musicians skip the intermediaries,” says Ronaldo Lemos.
“So the musicians do not make money from the CDs that are sold by the street vendors, they actually make money by playing live at the so-called sound system parties – the aparelhagem parties as we tecnobrega say here in Brazil – and also by selling CDs after they play live.”
“What the scene understood is that the CD is becoming more of an advertisement.
“No-one expects to make money from the CDs – they use it as a way to advertise the music and to advertise themselves as artists, and then their expectation is that they get invited to play at the sound system parties and clubs. “The more their music gets distributed, the more they will make money in return. So it is actually the opposite of the traditional business model in which you want to control how many CDs you have, you want to control how many tracks have been sold.”
There are said to be as many as 4,000 sound system parties per month in Belem and it is a hugely competitive market. There is furious competition among the DJs in Belem – each one vying with the other for the best sound system and the biggest crowd.
Future of music
The sound system parties are independent companies ranging from small operations on the back of a van – to the larger well established ones with lots of equipment playing for 10-15,000 people. The parties are a crucial part of the successful formula that makes a tecnobrega star, and there is good money to be made. One musician may be paid 2,200 reais (£677) for a live presentation, and can perform as many as 12 times a month.
The fans of tecnobrega will drive its future
The minimum wage in the area of Belem is approximately 700 reais (£215).
On top of this, the average number of CDs and DVDs sold after each presentation is 77 CDs and 53 DVDs while often the number of CDs sold after concerts at the bigger venues in the south of the country is often much smaller.
Tecnobrega is now a multi-million dollar music industry. With their music selling well in the street markets and a huge hit in the sound system parties, the artists can also go on to organise their own shows and earn their own profits.
Critics say tecnobrega encourages tolerance for piracy that costs Brazil jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue but supporters say it offers the industry a new way forward. “The number one lesson would be innovation – if you want to survive in the music industry right now you have to innovate,” says Mr Lemos. “Tecnobrega is a very fertile scene that is really transforming itself very quickly. From the initial tecnobrega style you now have cyber tecnobrega, you have brega melody you have electro melody. “But it also evolves from the perspective of business models – they are all the times designing new ways of creating more revenues. That is a very important point the music industry has to learn because if you take a look at the last 10 years there has not been a lot of innovation going on in the music industry.”
“It took like four or five years for the music business to start selling digital songs online, so it is a lot of time. The tecnobrega has been developing this business model of being 100% digital free copying, free distribution for at least six years.” Tecnobrega is an unconventional sound and an unconventional music model.
The music industry may not approve of all its methods – but it seems that in Belem the will of the consumer is a more powerful voice and that in the end may prove decisive.
It’s kinda hard for me to find TECNO BREGA, so if you have mixes or tracks, get in touch!